Blogs by Howard Hopkins
Anatomy of a Novel: Endgame
2/7/2005 9:57:16 AM
When we last left my humble attempt to explain the workings of the writer mind, at least one writer's mind who many assure me is just a bit south of normal, I was struggling to put the plot for RIPPER PASS together. Unfortunately, some things got in the way, mostly holiday stuff and a slew of play dates with the band I am in, then a nice case of the flu for the first time in twenty years. I'd like to thank my five-year-old niece for that!
Anyway, back to the story(ies) at hand. Again I find myself with a number of recipe cards scattered before me on the carpet, a few sheets of lined paper with various scene, character and plot ideas. But apparently in the days off some minor miracle has taken place because a plot is bubbling over and my pen hits the page at a scorching pace! (Well, maybe not scorching, but I'm pretty sure I made a hole in the paper some place!) I block out seven chapters (normally my books consist of ten chapters, but I found, with my last six books, I tended to run over 10,000-15,000 words with that many, so I reduced it to seven, which seems to put me right about target word-wise). The first chapter is a montage, a night in the life--and death--of three bargirls in the dusty Colorado town of Miller's Pass. With the second chapter I slow down a bit and reintroduce the two leads. The female lead is still a bit annoyed about something that happened at the end of the last entry in the series (POISON PASS) and will make no bones about it. There's also the matter that the male, Jim Hannigan, hasn't quite told her what they are doing, why and how he came to know about. He's going to have to tell her about Catherine, at least enough to get her riled, because let's face it he's too dense to help himself and does not understand women or relationships.
With the third chapter other characters start finding their way onto the stage and the tensions start to build. The first act--and like most playwrights I aim for three acts--is drawing to a close and the second act--usually the toughest for most authors--kicks into gear. I won't give away too many plot details and ruin things, but that's basically how the book continues plotwise. Scene building upon scene, increasing the tension, tightening the drawstring until the third act, where the pace accelerates to the grand finale. It takes roughly three hours to get the entire plot. This would usually mean I would start writing the book the very next day.
In this case, as I mentioned, I am writing this novel back to back with NIGHTMARE PASS, the next in the series. I am striving for that continuity and consistency--and trying to trick my memory into not forgetting all those minor details that a few months can dump. Basically, I follow the same procedure I did with RIPPER PASS--and end up staring at blank lined paper again the next day. A couple characters suggest themselves, at least their names, though I am not sure who they are or why they want to be in my book. Oh, wait. It's not my book. None of them are. It's THEIR book. They tell me what to do (um, that's where the south of normal part comes in...)
Three frustrating hours of mental constipation later, that's all I have.
Next day: The first hour doesn't go so well. Apparently I didn't have enough cerebral roughage the day before. Then plop. I get a vague notion. What if this one because of its name is sort of an homage to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? Hmm, how can I make that work with a western?
I can't exactly. Because two hours later, all I have is a name, Hollow Pass, for the town and this notion of a mysterious rider on a black horse. It's sounding a bit silly to me because of the whole pumpkin headless thing. Well, crap. Time to abandon it and look elsewhere, I reckon.
Another day crawls by. Cards scattered again, but suddenly something is there. The rider on the horse is back but he's got a head this time and, what's more, a reason for doing what he will be doing, the idea for which also springs to life. Seems a number of years back the marshal of Hollow Pass did something he shouldn't have (well, a few somethings) and then made himself out a hero for doing it. But he didn't do it well enough because one of the somethings comes back to haunt him. There's this gang, the Criggers. They did bad things, robbed banks, stages, but worst of all had a nasty habit of killing women and hanging them in fields naked on cross posts. These became known as "The Scarecrow Murders". The gang wore black dusters and clothing, their black masks stitched with jagged thread mouths.
Characters start to fill in, then, the few I will need. It occurs to me Jim Hannigan used to ride with the marshal, briefly, in his youth, and after an unknown someone sends him a newspaper relating the death of the marshal's wife by scarecrow means, he decides to pay the man a visit. The Marshal is not welcoming. The relationship between him and his partner has also deteriorated some since the events of RIPPER PASS, and things are coming to a head: Hannigan will have to make a choice this time. I could draw out their ebb and flow, but as a reader by this time I feel I would want at least a start at a resolution to their relationship--not that there won't be repercussions in forthcoming novels, not matter what his choice turns out to be.
It takes another two days to get the plot for this one. This book relies more on character interaction and building than the more plot driven RIPPER PASS. (and accordingly it gives me more trouble writing it.)
On January 22nd I begin writing the first draught of RIPPER PASS, and on February 5 I finish the first draught of NIGHTMARE PASS. Two weeks solid writing with no break, usually getting 4000-6000 words a day. This is the fastest part of writing for me (the second draught is the longest because in my writing flurry I don't bother slowing down for anything. I want the intensity there. I can fix problems, add, subtract or do extra research later.) When I sit down to write I literally don't move from the screen for hours. It's exhausting emotionally and physically but that's the way I write and though I have tried other ways I find this works best for me.
RIPPER PASS goes very smooth for the most part, evens runs slightly long.
NIGHTMARE is tougher, as I mentioned, and comes in right on target. Now of course comes the arduous task of refining the books, but I will let them settle for a week or more to put some distance between me and them, so I can go at the revisions with a more objective eye.
I hope those who have stuck with me in these blogs have enjoyed the look. I am hoping the Pass Series will prove enjoyable as well. Thanks for joining me on the journey!
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More Blogs by Howard Hopkins
Anatomy of a Novel: Endgame - Monday, February 07, 2005
Anatomy of a Novel part 4: - Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Anatomy of a Novel Part 3 - Monday, November 29, 2004
Anatomy of a Novel: Part 2 - Monday, November 08, 2004
Anatomy of a Novel - Monday, November 01, 2004
Blog Updates - Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Johnny Dead & news - Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Ladigan - Saturday, February 28, 2004
New Blog Entries Oct-Dec, 03 - Sunday, January 11, 2004
Large print sale - Monday, August 25, 2003
Captain's log, Stardate whatever! - Monday, August 18, 2003
The New West? - Monday, August 11, 2003
Rain Rain Please Go Away... - Monday, August 04, 2003
Author's Log--Stardate: 7312003 - Thursday, July 31, 2003
Hitting the E-Road... - Wednesday, July 30, 2003